The World's End is the final chapter in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, following two of my favorite comedies, Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). I wish I could say this last entry lived up to the inventive hilarity of the first two, but for me this one is a bit too clever for its own good and short on the big laughs that have me on the floor every time I watch the others. But by no means does it have nothing to recommend it, and it's still a funny and somewhat sad rumination on childhood friendships and the way life doesn't turn out as you expected it to when you were young.
The movie as always, stars Simon Pegg in the lead role and Nick Frost as his sidekick, and co-writer Pegg deserves credit, along with Wright, for figuring out how not to have him play the same character in any of the three films. Here Pegg turns it upside down again as Gary King, a middle-aged drug addict and alcoholic who's no more responsible or mature than he was at 18 years old, when he and his loyal buddies first attempted the "Golden Mile," a pub crawl that includes twelve pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven. At the time, the guys never completed the crawl, and Gary, in the beginning of a mid-life crisis, decides at once to round up the gang to finish what they started twenty years earlier. He goes about it one by one, assembling his old pals, all of whom are now either married or settled, and all of whom have grown up and are reluctant to join in Gary's ultimate quest, especially Frost as Andy, who was once the victim of his and Gary's youthful and reckless antics, and decidedly not eager to relive it.
Nonetheless, for reasons none of them quite seem to know themselves, they do gather together again and travel back to Newton Haven, only to find that the town and the people in it are changed, somehow. The movie is actually quite serious for the majority of the first section of the film, content to make some rather astute observations about how childhood friendships change and as adults we can never quite recapture the past, and as a result the film fails to establish its comedic rhythms early, making us think we're going to be experiencing a much more poignant, almost dramatic reunion of old friends. But of course, things take a sudden left turn at the halfway point, as we begin to see that the town actually, literally has changed, and been inhabited by robots/pod people who are out to homogenize Newton Haven along with the rest of the world.
When the guys realize it's a kind of apocalypse, the comedy gets a bit more raucous, but always swerves back to make its points about the failure and disappointments of Gary's adult life in particular. Because of this, the tone is a bit uneven throughout the film (even though the start of the apocalypse does bring the movie's biggest laughs in an outrageous bathroom brawl sequence), and in an even crazier left turn (or maybe at this point it's right), the climactic ending piles on a wildly complicated sci-fi twist that threatens to wipe out all the movie's poignant seriousness from the first half. The last twists in particular were unnecessary for me, as the sudden tonal change makes the movie feel like it wasn't quite sure what it wanted to be, but the cast is very good and still make the movie worth seeing, especially if you're a fan of the first two films in the trilogy. Nick Frost in particular is very effective in this, both in his usual physical comedy and surprisingly in the dramatic moments as well. Pegg and Frost always have the kind of chemistry that comes across as old and fast friends, and that timing and affection that exists between them carries every moment they're paired together. It's a collaboration you'd like to see go on, even outside the Cornetto trilogy, and I hope it will. I'd see anything they do together.
* * 1/2